Destroying chemical arms outside Syria ‘most viable option’

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Destroying Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal outside of the country is “the most viable option” given the ongoing war there, the head of the world’s chemical watchdog said Tuesday.

Updating a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ Executive Council on progress in dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons ahead of a tight mid-2014 deadline, Ahmet Uzumcu said Syria also preferred shipping the more than 1,000 tons of dangerous weapons outside the war-torn country despite the challenges.

Syria’s proposal “that the destruction of chemical weapons be carried out outside of the country constitutes the most viable option,” Uzumcu told the meeting at OPCW headquarters in The Hague.

Syria’s proposal is based on “practical challenges of carrying out destruction work in the midst of an armed conflict,” as well as on “resource limitations”, he said according to an OPCW statement.

OPCW and U.N. inspectors have until mid-2014 to destroy Syria’s entire chemical arsenal and production facilities under the terms of a US-Russian deal to head off military strikes on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Syria is cooperating with the disarmament operation and has already said it had approximately 1,290 tons of chemical weapons and agents as well as 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions, meaning shells, rockets or mortars.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that he would like to see Syria’s chemical arsenal shipped out of the country for destruction as quickly as possible, admitting that such an operation would likely be technically challenging and highly risky.

The Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria is now a signatory, bars countries from transporting their stockpiles to other nations.

But under U.N. Resolution 2118, adopted last month by the Security Council, member states of the convention were authorized to help transport the chemical weapons stockpiles so they could be destroyed in “the soonest and safest manner.”

The destruction of Syria’s unfilled munitions will continue in November, Uzumcu told the meeting, as well as “specialized production equipment and buildings”.

Syria has already destroyed 99 warheads and is expected to destroy 55 more, with Syrian officials due in The Hague on Tuesday facing a November 15 deadline to finalize the plan for the destruction of the chemical arsenal.

Destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons production facilities has been completed, and all chemicals and precursors placed under seal, the OPCW said last week ahead of a November 1 deadline that it laid down and was backed by the U.N. Security Council resolution.

The resolution was agreed by the U.S. and Russia to avert military strikes on Syria after deadly chemical weapons attacks outside Damascus in August, which the West blamed on Assad’s regime.

The OPCW, based in The Hague, was this year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Its Executive Council will use the Syrian declaration to decide by November 15 on “destruction milestones” for Syria’s arsenal.

Syria has also sent in a declaration of its chemical weapons activities and facilities, meeting its obligations as a new state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

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